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  • January 2011
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What’s New in Censorship and Free Speech?

I follow news about censorship and First Amendment issues for a couple of reasons.  First of all,  I find it is useful for my job.  As you know, public libraries have a mandate to provide equal access to all kinds of information.  In fact, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh adopts the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights as a policy.  My favorite amendment is: “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” Yay!

Second, I just find it fascinating.   Reading up on things like book challenges and privacy issues in the information age is a good compass for where moral, ethical, and religious tensions lie, and how we as a society are trying to (or not trying to) work through these tensions.

So, without further ado, here are a few recent First Amendment and censorship news stories you may have missed.

  • Last month at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. an exhibit titled Hide/ Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, attracted the ire of some congress members as well as the Catholic League.   A short film that was part of the exhibit featured ants crawling on a crucifix.  The Smithsonian withdrew the controversial film from the exhibit.  This attracted the ire of free speech advocates, including the Warhol Foundation, which threatened to withdraw funding from the Smithsonian.
  • A new edition of Huckleberry Finn changes Mark Twain’s original text.  This new version replaces the word “n****r” (used 219 times) with the word “slave.”  Huck Finn is always at the top of challenged book lists, precisely because of this racial slur.  The author of the new version is an English Professor at Auburn, and  believed that the book could be taught more often, if only they did away with the offensive term.  Free speech advocates opposed to the change argue that teachers will miss the opportunity to educate students on post-civil war racism.
  • If free speech is one side of the first amendment coin, privacy is the other.  Pennsylvania Homeland Security was in the news this fall, after the office was accused of violating the right to privacy for some PA residents.  Among other things, the office was accused of equating environmental groups with terrorists. “They were tracking down protesters and grilling their parents,” according to reports.  The state office worked with a private corporation to investigate private individuals who were politically active, especially people opposed to natural gas drilling.

If you want to read more about censorship, check out the CLP Teen Banned Books Week web pages. That’s right, the library has books lists, pathfinders to other websites, and links to news about banned books and other censorship issues!



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